Macra sets up system to reach out to rural Malawi on access to ICT

Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) is set to roll out a special system, the Universal Service Fund, to provide means to the majority of Malawians in the rural areas who do not have adequate access to information and communication technology (ICT) services.

Being briefed on the technical part of MACRA services
The Committee was led by its chairperson McNice Aboo Naliwa, MP for Zomba Nsondole
The briefing with Parliamentary Media Committee

The Universal Service Fund (US Fund) is MACRA’s new system of subsidies and fees intended to promote universal access to communication services in the country in realizing that the majority of Malawians in the rural areas are underserved in ICT services.

The US Fund is expected to help with communications network deployment and service provision in rural and underserved areas, especially in the economically unattractive areas, where ICT service providers may not invest due to lack of economic viability.

MACRA invited the Parliamentary Media Committee to its offices at Ginnery Corner in Blantyre on Tuesday to appraise it on the progress being done.

In her presentation, MACRA’s by Emily Khamula Lungu said the rural underserved areas lack adequate access to ICT services due to poor or no network coverage; insufficient access to public pay phones as well as personal phones; very limited availability of postal and Internet services; limited television and radio coverage and lack of relevant Internet content.

“ICT services have traditionally been rolled out in urban areas since the ICT service providers are more interested in making a quick return on their investment and in the process this has resulted in the sidelining of the rural masses.

“Therefore it is the Government’s policy initiative to promote Universal Service Fund in the country to help promote the rolling out of ICT Services in the rural and underserved areas,” she said.

Through US Fund, MACRA shall entice service providers to increase coverage for radio broadcasting taking cognizance that some people cannot access radio signals as broadcasters fail to provide services because of topography.

The Fund will be used to provide such gaps and thereby increase reach and coverage of radio stations.

The rural masses’ TV viewership recently decreased because previously it was a free to air analog service but since it migrated to digital, the majority could not afford it even though they still have TV sets.

The US Fund also intends to introduce public Wi-Fi that aims at making universal access to  broadband services which is in line with the main objectives of the National Broadband Strategy 2019 to 2023 with key strategic areas being targeted.

The service also targets secondary schools in the unserved and underserved areas to be computerized and provided with Internet connectivity and to engage the unemployed young IT experts for the maintenance and management of the school computer labs.

The projects also targets to facilitate computing technology for people with disabilities such as reading and writing documents, communicating with others and searching for information on the Internet.

“Internet presents opportunities to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities to transact online and overcome barriers and challenges presented by the physical world,” Lungu told the Parliamentarians.

“The project seeks to install and equip computer labs with ICT assistive devices for people with disabilities in their institutions.”

On telecommunication, MACRA takes cognizance that rural areas pose a challenge for the private sector investment since the service providers contend that there is no business case to deploy the expensive infrastructure needed.

Lungu said statistics indicate that about 16 percent of Malawi’s population lives in areas that are unserved by mobile coverage of any kind but the US Fund intend to provide at least 2G service that can cover a population coverage of 84%.

The Universal Service shall be funded through the fees that service providers (telecoms, postal and broadcasting) pay to MACRA as well as money appropriated by Parliament and grants, subsidies, bequest, donations, gifts and subscriptions from Government or any other person and funds made available by MACRA itself.

The US Fund shall be administered by a committee which shall be composed of MACRA director general; one member nominated by each of the communications services sectors; one member nominated by the consumer protection organizations and one representative from government, as identified by the Minister of Information, Communication & Technology.

All this is in line with MACRA’s functions under its mandate that is derived from the Communications Act 2016 and the E-Transaction & Cyber-Security Act 2016, which is to protect the interest of consumers, purchasers and users of telecommunications services.

MACRA is also mandated by the Act to promote open access to information by means of communication services; to promote efficiency and competition among the persons involved in telecommunication services or supply of communications equipment as well as to encourage the introduction of new communication services.

It is also mandated to promote research in telecommunications including radio telecommunication and to foster the development of communications services and technology in accordance with international recognized standards.

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